By now, I am sure that most of you have heard about the efforts to photograph activity on dairies and other companies by use of drones. Unfortunately, again, our State and Federal leaders have left us unprotected and with little in the way of resources to combat these intrusions into our businesses.
To begin, you may own your land, but you may not own the sky above it. Interestingly, the government still holds many of you accountable for the air above your property when it contains methane or other substances, but not if it is polluted with aircraft overhead. If your neighbor has a tree that hangs over your fence and you want to trim it back, you can. But you can’t stop a jet from flying over at 30,000 feet. So where is the actual cut off?
“There is gray area in terms of how far your property rights extend,” said Jeramie Scott, national security counsel
at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s going to need to be addressed sooner rather than later as
drones are integrated into the national airspace.”
The issue is becoming more urgent as drones are crowding America’s skies: The Consumer Technology Association
estimated 700,000 were sold last year.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, every inch above the tip of your grass blades is the government’s
jurisdiction. “The FAA is responsible for the safety and management of U.S. airspace from the ground up,” said an
agency spokesman, echoing rules laid out on its website.
But common law long held that landowners’ rights went “all the way to Heaven.” And today, it’s clear that they have
California’s Governor vetoed all of the bills that came before him at the end of the 2015 Legislative Session. Most probably needed to be reworked. So, there are about 6 bills working their way through the system again. However, we really need to turn to the FAA to get guidance, and so far, the only real answers they have is that drones need to be registered with the FAA. The FAA refers to drones as UAVs or Unmanned Arial Vehicle Systems.
So what do we do while we wait for the government to catch up with an issue that started a couple of years ago?
This is from the AgWeb website:
The FAA administers the air space from the ground surface (soil, grass, top of building) upward. If it finds there is a problem, it can rule that the UAV was in violation due to careless and reckless operation and issue a fine or other penalty. Well-equipped UAV systems with cameras and sensors can cost from $7,500 to $40,000 or more, creating a substantial loss if destroyed.
Woldt says concerns often are based on a need for safety and potential infringements of property and privacy. The former is addressed by federal aviation regulations, while property and privacy concerns are addressed by civil and perhaps even criminal law. Someone can fly a UAV equipped with a camera over a neighbor’s backyard and be adhering to aviation law, but infringing on someone’s personal privacy. It gets back to one’s expectation of privacy in different settings, Woldt said. If a person feels that their privacy has been infringed upon, then the same recommendation applies — contact appropriate authorities with as much information about the UAV as can be obtained, without confrontation.
Landowners can take steps to create a no-fly zone over their property by documenting their preferences at https://www.noflyzone.org/. The No Fly Zone organization works with manufacturers and UAV software developers. While it cannot guarantee that individual no-fly zones will be respected, it will provide the information to leading manufacturers, who can incorporate these areas into their software.
Proposed Changes to UAV Regulations
Earlier this month the FAA released a set of proposed regulations to more fully integrate UAS into the National Air Space. When approved, these regulations would open the door to much wider UAS use, including for a breadth of possible agricultural applications. For more information on the proposed FAA regulations, and to provide comments to the FAA on the regulations, see:
- DOT and FAA Propose New Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems — FAA News Release (2/15)
- FAA Overview of Proposed UAS Regulations
- Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems — Proposed Rules and Comment Period until April 24, 2015
- Know Before You Fly – Federal and industry educational campaign for UAS operators
As you can see, this is a very murky situation with a lot of what you can’t do and very little on what you can do. You can confront the person if you find them, but you cannot threaten or use physical force. You can contact the Sherriff’s department and claim that they are disturbing your animals (if indeed they are doing so). Chasing animals with drones could be considered animal abuse in some situations, but in all cases, consult your attorney or law enforcement, do not take action into your own hands. Remember, in the long run, you don’t want to lose the public opinion on an issue while the legislature is trying to provide solutions or you could end up on the bad side of that solution.
Contact your Assembly and Senate members and let them know your position. Attend meetings, get organized and most of all, communicate to everyone you know when you see drone activity in your area. Together we can work to stop this.